The Frontstretch: Five Points To Ponder: TRD And Keselowski Trip While 'Dinger Runs Into Trouble by Danny Peters -- Tuesday June 4, 2013

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ONE: Engine Woes Threaten to Derail Kenseth’s Title Tilt


Kenseth going up in smoke is a familiar picture this year. Unfortunately, his TRD engines haven’t been adding to the image in a positive way.

It is probably just as well for the rest of the Sprint Cup field that Matt Kenseth has had some bad luck with power plants this year because without it, his already stellar season would be approaching levels of dominance that even Jimmie Johnson would aspire to. Kenseth has two pole positions, three wins, seven top-10’s and an astonishing (and series best) 922 laps led or 21% of the 4349 total laps run at the Cup level this year. All told, the 16-year, 485-race veteran has led 85 or more laps in an incredible seven of 13 races completed thus far.

Despite his strong showing, the mechanical gremlins plaguing Toyota Racing Development engines might just derail what looks like Kenseth’s best shot in years at a championship. As Mike Neff noted in his excellent Dover race recap, there have been a total of 17 Toyota engine failures through 13 races compared with just three and two for Ford and Chevrolet respectively.

In the garage post-race, Kenseth was sanguine in his analysis of the issues. “It seems like we got the best cars out there — or equal to the best cars. But, you know you have to finish these things. Obviously, there’s been some issues in that department. Got a lot of faith in them guys. They’ll get it figured out…. Hopefully we’ll have it all figured out before September.”

With a Chase berth essentially secured, Kenseth has to hope and believe it will be rectified come Chase time. If it is, the rest of the field better look out.

TWO: Will Martin Truex, Jr. Ever Win Again?

Martin Truex Jr’s winless streak stretched to a gargantuan 216 races following an engine expiration and 38th place finish at the Monster Mile this past Sunday. The sad part was that Truex Jr. had looked racy at the track where he secured his only Cup victory to date.

“Pretty disappointing. We had a great race car today,” said Truex post-race. “The NAPA Toyota was really good. We were one or two adjustments away there from having something for them. We were really good on long runs. Little too tight on the short runs. Damn, I wish we could have made it to the end.”

Since his maiden victory at Dover in 2007, Truex has finished second an agonizing six times, most recently at Texas when Kyle Busch beat him off pit road late after he had led 142 laps.

“Finishing second [at Texas] is good. I’m not saying that’s not the case,” noted Truex. “It’s just when you’ve been so close to winning so many times since your last one, it really sucks to run that good and finish second.”

Fellow Michael Waltrip Racing driver Clint Bowyer won three times last year (Sonoma, Richmond and Charlotte.) So it’s not as if it can’t be done in MWR equipment. But you can’t help but wonder what effect all these near misses have had on Truex’s psyche and what will happen the next time he’s in position to win at the sharp end of a race.

Here’s hoping the winless streak — now the longest on record between first and second wins in NASCAR — ends sooner rather than later for one of the good guys in the garage.

THREE: Tough Times for the Champ

Brad Keselowski’s fifth place finish at the Monster Mile last Sunday was his first top-5 effort since his third place run at Bristol in the fourth race of the season. Coming off the back of two terrible finishes (32nd at Darlington, 36th at Charlotte) it was at least a small step in the right direction – right up until NASCAR announced his car had failed the post-race inspection. To make matters worse, this was only the first race since the return of his crew chief Paul Wolfe, car chief Jerry Kelley, engineer Brian Wilson and competition director Travis Geisler from suspension.

The word from the Penske camp is that whatever penalty is levied will not be appealed due to the fact that the infraction was caused by a broken part. There is precedent in 2013 already with Martin Truex Jr. who incurred a 6 point penalty and a $25,000 fine for a similar sort of issue.

Regardless of what might be a second points deduction only 13 races into the season, it’s clear that Keselowski is experiencing a really tough stretch; something that is exacerbated by the fact that the Fords appear to be a tick off the pace when compared to the Toyota and Chevy engines.

I still believe that this team is just too good to miss the Chase (despite what some prognosticators are saying). Even with this latest issue, I’ve not changed my mind there.

FOUR: Next Up—Pocono

Next up it’s the first of two trips in eight weeks to picturesque Pocono Raceway. It’s also the first week of the six-week stretch for TNT. That will be a welcome change from a broadcasting point of view after all the white noise from WE ARE FOX SPORTS.

The track was repaved prior to the 2012 races won by Joey Logano and Jeff Gordon respectively, just the third repave since the track first opened for business back in 1974 – some 70 Cup races ago. Richard Petty won the first race at the Tricky Triangle and since then the list of winners is a veritable Who’s Who of NASCAR.

One former winner is Denny Hamlin who desperately needs the W on Sunday to kick start a season that has been blighted by a four-race absence through a back injury.

“We had two legs up on everyone when we went there with the old pavement,” Hamlin said.”I think now we’re better than average, but we’re not the best anymore at that track. But it’s definitely a place that we have performed well. Even after it got paved we still performed pretty well. Yeah, it is a track I look forward to…”

And after a disappointing end to a solid day at Dover, Hamlin more than ever needs a win to catapult himself back into Chase contention.

FIVE: Racing is a Tough Business

And finally, a quick shout out to AJ Allmendinger who wrecked on the first lap of both of the IndyCar races in the Detroit double header this past weekend. With the series running full points paying races on both Saturday and Sunday – the first of three times that will happen this year – a mistake or a tough day on Saturday could quickly be erased on Sunday.

In the case of Allmendinger, it all just went from bad to worse (and that’s putting it mildly.)

“I don’t know what to say,” a contrite and ashen-faced Allmendinger said after Sunday’s race. “I apologize to Roger, everybody at Team Penske, Quicken Loans, everybody that puts in the effort, all my guys, it’s embarrassing, honestly. It’s embarrassing for me. Roger deserves better than that, the sponsors. I don’t know where I go from here. I’m heartbroken.I don’t even know what to say anymore.”

Well, the good news for AJ is that he’s back in on track this weekend at Pocono in the No. 51 car for Phoenix Racing. Whilst a win might be too much to ask, I certainly hope he has a solid day and at the very least finishes all 160 laps.

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JP
06/04/2013 08:22 AM
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Next up Pocono?

Good. I need to work on my golf game and get some yard work done.

MJR in Springfield, VA
06/04/2013 09:11 AM
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Next up – Pocono.

Yep…me to – we plan one of our summer camping trips for this weekend.

Annie
06/04/2013 01:35 PM
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Well it’s a story albeit buried with other “stories” MTJ 216 races since a win. I dare say that is one of (if not the biggest)story not being reported in Nascar today. Why this guy is allowed to skate under the radar without anybody asking tough questions does a diservice to the drivers with a much better record that got raked over the coals. Shame on all of you..Jr..144, Logano 104 and the list goes on. Why does this guy even have a ride? HIS RECORD IS THE WORST and what does the public hear from the bad luck hungry media…crickets. Interesting stuff and kind words towards him to boot.

Kevin in SoCal
06/04/2013 01:51 PM
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We need more unique tracks in NASCAR! There are too many 1.5 mile ovals! There are too many cookie cutter tracks!
Don’t worry folks, Pocono is coming up next, the most unique track on the circuit and certainly not a cookie cutter!
Oh yawn, its Pocono, I’m not going to watch.
(shaking my head)

Joe..
06/04/2013 03:59 PM
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Good one Kevin.

GinaV24
06/04/2013 05:07 PM
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LOL, well, I agree that NASCAR needs more unique tracks and less 1.5 ovals, but the caveat to that is that the RACING also has to live up to that standard. Dover, contrary to Larry Mac’s article about how well the Gen6 car performed, was a bore and a half. I was there, trying NOT to fall asleep as the cars went by single file.

My point is, unique isn’t enough, the racing also has to be entertaining to watch. If it rains, I may watch some of the race, but more than likely, I’ll go do something else.

Seamus
06/04/2013 06:29 PM
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Agree re: Dover and primarily single file racing. Fontana used to be that way until the track matured. What was a snoozer is now pretty good racing.

glenn
06/04/2013 08:11 PM
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I wonder if Roger is questioning his move to Ford?? they are so off the pace this year. Yeah it was business, but the Fords havent been competitive in a while. speaking of bad decisions, isnt it nice the JGR saved a buck and outsourced their engines to TRD?? hows that working out?

Overra88ted
06/04/2013 09:21 PM
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Alright Truex fans, time to take a page out of the Dale Jr. Excuse Book. One that Jr, Nation loves to use….“Yea but, he won 2 Busch Championships.”

Cory
06/05/2013 01:02 AM
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To be fair, Pocono has put on decent races the last couple of years.

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